Obituary: John Sully, councillor

Alderman John M Sully, who has died at 81, was an accountancy lecturer, Labour councillor and cycling evangelist, who commuted daily on his bike between Leeds Polytechnic and his home back in Alwoodley.

John Sully

Alderman John M Sully, who has died at 81, was an accountancy lecturer, Labour councillor and cycling evangelist, who commuted daily on his bike between Leeds Polytechnic and his home back in Alwoodley.

One of his lasting legacies in the city is the Playhouse, a project that could have stalled or been abandoned, but for his vision.

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He was chair of the West Yorkshire County Council Recreation and Arts Committee in 1986, when the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, abolished the metropolitan county councils. With several million pounds in his committee’s budget that had to be spent or forfeited to the Government, it was agreed that £4m, an enormous sum for the time, would go towards the cost of a new theatre on Quarry Hill, on condition that it was called the West Yorkshire Playhouse, in deference to the county authority that had paid for it.

John Sully

The largesse of that council committee had already extended to grass roots sport, bridle paths and to improving the towpath and canals across West Yorkshire. A family canal holiday in 1976, booked by Mr Sully’s late wife, Cynthia, had inspired an interest in the waterways and he became a catalyst for the restoration and reopening of the Rochdale and Huddersfield navigations.

His community interests were wide ranging and he sought to prioritise investment for the people of the county. Offering a larger grant than requested, he encouraged the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in its ambition to become a world-leading arts venue, and was delighted to see it come to fruition.

He had been elected first to the Burley ward of Leeds City Council in 1972, but the local government reorganisation of 1974 prevented him from retaining his seat because his employer, Leeds Polytechnic, came under the council’s control. In 1977, though, he was elected to represent Osmondthorpe on the county authority, and when Labour took control in 1981, he was appointed to chair the Recreation and Arts Committee.

By 1990 he was back on Leeds Council, and four years later caused a sensation when he won the formerly safe Conservative ward of Alwoodley.

A long-time member of Meanwood Methodist Church, he is survived by his two daughters.